February 21, 2018

Overcoming Barriers to Equity for Women in the Workplace

Goodwin and Citi Private Bank recently hosted a panel discussion on challenges facing women in the workplace. Moderated by Ilan Nissan, a private equity partner and member of Goodwin’s executive committee, the discussion touched on the importance of pay transparency, the role of mentoring, ways to affect cultural change and adjusting one’s mindset from the realm of the probable to the realm of the possible.

The panelists were:

  • Tracey Warson, Head of Citi Private Bank, North America 
  • Naz Vahid, Head of the Law Firm Group for Citi Private Bank 
  • Lisa Davis, Treasury and Trade Services Data Governance Officer & Global Head of TTS Enterprise Services, Citi

Here are some highlights from the hour-long discussion:

Pay Transparency


The panel discussion took place just hours after Citi issued a report that revealed an encouraging finding regarding pay parity among its workforce.

“If you read the news today you saw that [at Citi] women and ethnic minorities are paid 99 percent of what they’re white, male counterparts are paid in the U.S., that is,” Warson said. “That was pretty good news.”

Being transparent about what men and women are paid – as well as ensuring they’re paid fairly and equitably – is a fundamental way to lower barriers for women in the workplace, panelists agreed. 
“Women, we’ve been talking to ourselves for years,” Warson said. “You’re not going to make a lot of groundbreaking change. So one of the biggest things we did was to get men in the conversation. And that tone starts at the top.” 

Incremental vs. Radical Change


Moderator Ilan Nissan asked the panelists whether they felt institutional change was better pursued and achieved incrementally and gradually or radically and quickly. Responses generally favored a radical approach given that historically incremental change hasn’t generated to the preferred outcome.

“With pay equity as an example, that’s a radical change,” Davis said. “When you’re dealing with small percentages, you can’t get there. If some radical change – change from the top – doesn’t happen, it’s all in vain.”

For Vahid, radical change is preferable but with a dose of moderation. “I think it’s a middle ground – I think incremental change that includes the men is super important,” she said. “Whether we like it or not, men are still in the majority of the management positions, so they need to feel good about (making change).”

Differences Around the World


Nissan asked, given Citi’s global footprint, whether panelists have observed differences in how women and others are treated depending on geographic location.

“I will tell you between the U.K. and the U.S. there’s a huge difference in how women are treated, in what can be said and what cannot be said,” said Naz Vahid. “I find that we sometimes don’t appreciate that, but women in the U.S. are a whole lot further along in terms of getting a seat at the table and getting their opinions out.”

Davis said challenges will vary from country to country. “Some countries are dealing with very severe LGBT issues,” she said. “Whereas in some countries they don’t see ethnic minorities as being as big of an issue as they are here in the U.S.”

While those cultural differences can be vast, Citi is working to emphasize diversity and inclusion throughout all of its offices.

“We have taken diversity and inclusion very seriously,” Warson said. “And I think it inspires everybody in the organization just to be their true selves and bring their best self to work.”

Warson said Citi’s leadership team is 40 percent women; counting ethnic minorities and LGBTQ, the figure is 60 percent. “And I do believe it makes this a more inspiring place to be,” she added.

Operating in the Realm of Possible 


Altering your mindset about your potential is a fundamental way to overcome barriers in the workplace, panelists said.

Years ago, Davis was working in the catering and events department inside Citi. She realized that position might eventually be outsourced and she might not have a future there. When she was booking events for the company’s women’s group, she saw an opening and asked about whether she might participate in a re-training program to learn how to become a banker.

“I had to learn to speak up for myself,” she said. “I had to get out of my own way. I may not have the same background as some of my peers, but it doesn’t make me any less smart or capable.”
For Warson, the key was to begin thinking beyond what was her likely career potential and began pursuing bigger and better opportunities. 

“I was always taught to live in possibility instead of probability,” Warson said. “Often we don’t invest in ourselves enough. Think big. Don’t make the glass ceiling real.”